Tips for Imago Therapists

Impacts of collusion between couples in not telling the truth.

by Annie Gurton

Are your clients telling you the truth?

Experience has taught me that clients lie.  To their therapist, to each other and to themselves.  The lying can be blatant or subtle, direct or possibly the most difficult of all, lying by omission.

All of us lie from time to time, most of us very occasionally, and we rationalise it by seeing it as a good thing to do, for other people or for ourselves.  In the therapeutic relationship clients routinely gloss over things, reimagine things or pretend.  As therapists we sometimes lie too, lets be honest, often for therapeutic impact. 

But in couple work there is another dimension – collusion between the pair.  They know they are not telling the truth, but for some reason, perhaps loyalty or shame, they cover up for each other and/or don’t call the other one out.

This collusion could be seen as a good thing – at least they are still connecting at some level.  But it doesn’t help the therapist do their best work if they are not in possession of the truth.

Sometimes we ‘feel’ that something just isn’t right.  We might get a sense of simmering violence when violence has been denied, or we wonder whether one partner is already halfway out the door when they sincerely say they want to reconnect and recommit.  

As therapists I think we are mainly quite trusting, and tend to take whatever we are told as gospel and the whole truth.  In this regard, many therapists are quite naive.   How can we be any other way?  We have to develop a trusting relationship with our clients. The suspicious therapist isn’t going to do good work. 

How to deal with the lying?   Sometimes I call or voice the lie out as soon as I feel it, or if there is such a clash of statements that a lie is obvious.  At other times, I let the lie stand, not wanting to shame or risk a false accusation and break trust.

But the lying matters, not least because it means that our work is based on misinformation and is therefore less effective.  It means we have to spend some our therapeutic energy listening for hints that we might not be being told the whole story, or the most relevant part of the story.   We have to ask ourselves why, and what the client gains by the lie.

A good liar will really believe their untruth and be skilled at slippery avoidance of the truth.  Sometimes they lie to protect their partner.  Sometimes any collusion can indicate that their relationship is recoverable.  Sometimes they haven’t come to trust you sufficiently to tell the whole truth.

Its complicated, and often messy.  There is no one way for a therapist to deal with lying or colluding clients – as ever, you have to trust your instincts.  Just being aware of it is a good first step.  Who knows what the second step might be?


Renee Claire Voice
Thursday, 01.06.2023

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